GOP bill worries abortion rights groups

Feb. 1, 2011 at 10:53 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- A Republican bill that would permanently bar federal funding for most abortions would change the definition of rape, abortion rights groups said.

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act would make permanent several provisions that, for years, required annual congressional renewal, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The best known provision that would become permanent is the so-called Hyde Amendment, which bars some federally funded healthcare programs from covering abortions but allowed exemptions for rape, incest and to save the woman's life.

Under the proposed language, rape becomes "forcible rape," which critics said could distinguish it from other kinds of sexual assault usually recognized as rape, such as statutory rape and attacks occurring because of drugs or verbal threats, the Post reported.

"It speaks to a distinction between rape where there must be some element of force in order to rise to the standard, and rape where there is not," Steph Sterling, director of government relations for the National Women's Law Center, said. "The concern here is that it takes us back to a time where just saying 'no' was not enough."

The bill's supporters counter that abortion rights groups are overstating the bill's intent. Supporters said the bill codifies what already has been in practice -- the barring of federal employees, military service personnel and people who receive federal assistance from using taxpayer money to pay for abortions, with a few exceptions.

"Rape is an abhorrent crime of violence," Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., the only Democrat so far to sign on to the bill, said in a statement. The bill "was not intended to change existing law regarding taxpayer funding for abortion in cases of rape, nor is it expected that it would do so. Nonetheless, the legislative process will provide an opportunity to clarify this should such a need exist."

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